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What the Hong Kong Experience with Corruption Can Teach Us
Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project
Monday, 25 January 2010
Hong Kong today is one of the least corrupt societies in the world. Transparency International currently rates it above Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Britain, Austria, and even the United States.
From corrupt to clean: Hong Kong was able to become one, because of political will of its leaders and strong public support against corruption. Photo courtesy of The Deliberative Society
Yet it wasn’t always so. In fact, 40 years ago, Hong Kong was one of the most corrupt places in the world. Corruption was a way of life and famously existed ‘from womb to tomb’ in the former British colony.
The police, civil service, major government departments and agencies, private businesses, the construction industry, schools – all were plagued with endemic corruption. Firemen demanded kickbacks before they would tackle a blaze. Even nurses asked for so-called ‘tea money’ for emptying bedpans. Taxi drivers meanwhile could buy monthly stickers for their cab windows that would protect them against any kind of traffic prosecution.
The police had its own Anti-Corruption Department – but this achieved very little.
In the late 1960s, corruption started approaching critical levels and was partly responsible for a series of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial riots that very nearly led to a revolution and a take-over by China.
Two key things helped trigger Hong Kong’s turnaround from being one of the world’s most corrupt societies to being one of the least. The first was the arrival of a new governor – the colony’s top official – a smart and no-nonsense civil servant and former British ambassador to South Vietnam who preferred to walk to meetings rather than take his official Rolls Royce. The second trigger was local public outrage over the fact that a senior police chief was able to escape with millions of US dollars in bribery money and despite having been placed under arrest at the time.
Up until then there had been a total failure of political will to tackle the growing problem. All in charge of governing the city – in Hong Kong itself – and those officials ultimately in charge of the colony back in Britain shut their eyes to the problem. They thought it could not be challenged or changed and feared that given the police force was itself so corrupt, it could not be tackled without law and order collapsing and chaos ensuring. Of course, many officials were themselves on the take.
The public outcry over the police chief’s escape and the decision of governor Murray MacLehose to tackle the problem regardless of the political cost marked the total turning point for Hong Kong. The then colony slowly became a showcase for how to run a transparent and accountable government.
In another very clear lesson for the Philippines, the move against corruption also marked the beginning of Hong Kong’s transformation from mere colonial trading post to the huge financial player and investment center that it is today.
The link between the two – corruption and economic development - is absolutely clear.
According to the current head of the ICAC, Timothy TM Tong, the commission has achieved its goal of “helping to turn Hong Kong from a city plagued with corruption to among the cleanest in the world.”
In the mid 1970s, MacLehose started off by making the ICAC directly accountable to him. He also gave it sweeping powers and made sure most employees were recruited from overseas. The ICAC never shied away from taking very difficult decisions or making enemies – and it was supported by the governor throughout. In its early and most difficult days, the commission would often take over entire police stations and sack entire units and teams rather than take a chance with leaving some corrupt individuals in place. At the same time, it set up amnesties for lower-grade officers and made use of their intelligence and evidence to further the fight against corruption. He showed too that crime did not pay by successfully overseeing the extradition of the corrupt senior police chief who had fled overseas.
Recent former Deputy Commissioner and Head of Operations Tony Kwok Man Wai puts the success of the ICAC down to following five factors:
Political will: Without clear leadership and the continual support of Governor MacLehose and his successors, he says, the ICAC would have failed in its mission. Instead of being hurt by or drawn into political battles it was allowed to fully focus on operations and delivery;
Financial support: Similarly, the ICAC never had to battle for its budget. Political will was translated into proper financial support. According to Kwok, the ICAC is “probably one of the most expensive anti-corruption agencies in the world” - its budget being equal to half of one per cent of Hong Kong’s gross domestic product. That said, given the staggeringly high percentage of the Philippine annual budget which is reportedly lost to corruption, it would add up to be a sound and obvious investment;
Proper legislative support: The Commission was given very clear and wide powers from the very beginning and covers all kinds of bribery and corruption in both the public and private sector. Says Kwok: “Not only are we empowered to investigate corruption offenses, we can investigate all crimes which are connected with corruption. We enjoy special investigative power, such as power to check bank accounts, requiring witnesses to answer questions on oath, restraining properties suspected to be derived from corruption, holding the suspects’ travel documents to prevent them from fleeing;”
The Commission is also said to be highly professional and adopts a very technical approach: Given the very nature of corruption alongside the difficulties of investigating cases, collecting evidence and securing convictions, the need for and value of a very professional and technical approach is itself very clear;
The final factor behind the success of the ICAC is said to be its work to educate and mobile public support to combat corruption. As current ICAC commissioner Tong puts it, ultimate success against corruption “hinges on the public maintaining high ethical standards in all dealings, showing zero tolerance for corruption and reporting it wherever it occurs.”
The lessons for the Philippines from the Hong Kong example are very clear. The same five factors as cited by Tony Kwok which have been so successfully employed there in regard to the ICAC can be equally employed in the fight against corruption in the Philippines.
This is not to say the solution here is its own version of the ICAC – but this is not to say it isn’t either. Ultimately, what clearly works there and what would prove equally to be a huge step forward here, is the exact same:
1. Political will
2. Financial support
3. Legislative support
4. A highly professional and technical approach
5. Public educational and mobilization against corruption
While the first of our two end-of project surveys has just been posted, the results coming in already make for some very interesting reading. This survey largely centers on which direction you think the fight for greater transparency and accountability is headed in the Philippines and what you think is currently present, necessary or missing in thinking, plans and action. READ MORE
The People’s Budget – It’s Up To us to Really Make It So
Thursday, 24 February 2011
Senate Bill 2186 or the People's Participation in Budget Deliberations Act is a very welcome move in the fight against corruption and graft and the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project was lucky enough to see it first a few weeks ago and be tapped for our own opinions on it. READ MORE
Truth Telling as We Remember the Lessons from EDSA
Monday, 21 February 2011
Former state auditor Heidi Mendoza’s message to the public at the Valentine’s Day forum where she was key speaker was very timely given we are just days away from marking the 25th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship and ushered in democracy. READ MORE
The Public Watch
Saturday, 19 February 2011
It is encouraging to see the Senate Conference Room on February 18 filled with students, nuns, socialites, activists, CSO workers and other concerned citizens who are all wanting to follow the continuing Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on alleged corruption within the Armed Forces of the Philippines. READ MORE
Thursday, 03 February 2011
We have a true ‘soldier’ in the form of anti-corruption fighter Heidi Mendoza –we just need to encourage more people like her to step forward and join her army. READ MORE
In the National – Not Personal Interest
Wednesday, 02 February 2011
‘Basic fair play, decency, good manners and right conduct.’ These words appeared in a well-argued column yesterday by William M. Esposo, the self-styled Chair-wrecker from the Philippine Star. READ MORE
Poor Budgeting, Too Many Contingency, and Special Purpose Funds and ‘Savings’ – All A Recipe For Corruption
Tuesday, 01 February 2011
Without commenting on who is charging what about whom in the AFP right now, it is not difficult to see how pabaon (send-off money) scandals can so easily happen. Blue Ribbon Committee hearings and politicians talk incessantly about slush-funds - and they seem to feature in every high level case of alleged corruption: But as yet, we don’t seem to link the ubiquitous slush funds with the ubiquitous and hugely discretionary contingency and special purpose funds (and dare we say it again, the PDAF/Pork Barrel Allocations) which are written into national budgets and approved by legislative committees year after year.” READ MORE
Officials Ignoring DILG Orders to Stop Personalizing Public Projects
Friday, 21 January 2011
A public-spirited citizen from Samar has just sent us in a series of photos and a complaint that government officials there appear to be in clear breach of a circular from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) banning the use of “names or initials and/or images or pictures of government officials in billboards and signages of government programs and projects.” READ MORE
The Good and Bad News from TI’s 2010 Global Corruption Barometer
Sadly the Supreme Court ruling on the legality of the Truth Commission comes as no surprise. We put ‘sadly’ not for the reasons that some might think – that many claim the Court to be biased against the Aquino government. It is ‘sad’ because it was perfectly clear back in May that any attempt to set up a commission which would only look at the alleged misdeeds of the Arroyo administration was a very poorly judged one. It suggested the move was much more about politics than it was about addressing the root of the problem of corruption in the Philippines. READ MORE
University Budget Cuts – Fact or Fiction and the Media’s Mission To Explain
29 November 2010
Opinion is critical and freedom of expression an inalienable (natural) right. Too is the right to information and often we assume they are the same thing. Yet information is essentially data and fact. Unfortunately, too much reporting the world over is poorly rooted in fact and too heavily in opinion and hearsay. READ MORE
Open Budget, Open Government
29 November 2010
Government officials, members of civil society organization workers, academic experts, business people and international development agencies met on Saturday November 20 in Pasig City to sign an agreement in a bid to make government budgets more open. READ MORE
Transparency in Government Contracts to Big Business and Consultancies
22 November 2010
“We are beginning to learn who works where, what departments spend and who are the big business recipients of taxpayers’ money,” journalists from the UK Guardian wrote last Friday in response to the latest release of financial details by the British Government. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 10th budget reporting training in Bohol June 30
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 10th training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on June 30 at the JJ’s Seafood Village in Tagbilaran City in Bohol. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 9th budget transparency reporting training in Kidapawan City June 6
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 9th training on advanced and anti-corruption reporting dubbed as “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on June 6 at Boylyn Pension Plaza in Kidapawan City. The training was made possible with the financial assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the technical assistance of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). READ MORE
PPTRP holds 8th budget reporting training in Pampanga June 3
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 8th training on advanced and anti-corruption reporting dubbed as “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on June 3 at the Social Action Center of Pampanga in San Fernando City, Pampanga. READ MORE
PPTRP-supported Local Transparency Groups Share Experiences in Reporting, Fighting Corruption
Three local transparency reporting groups which the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) supported and helped establish gathered on June 3 in Bohol to share experiences in building transparency and accountability in their respective communities. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 7th budget reporting training in Davao City May 27
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its seventh training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on May 27 at the Ateneo De Davao in Davao City. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 6th budget transparency reporting in Dipolog City May 23
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 6th training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on May 23 at the Top Plaza Hotel in Dipolog City. READ MORE
PPTRP meets with editors and columnists May 18 to discuss media coverage of public corruption
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project met with editors and columnists of selected national and international media organizations May 18 in Manila to discuss current media behavior and thinking in relation to public corruption and transparency. READ MORE
Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, the former CEO of the Philippine Forest Corporation who later disclosed explosive information on the anomalous USD 329 million NBN-ZTE deal that nearly brought down the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, shared his views May 9 with the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project on continuing the fight against corruption and for genuine transparency under the new administration. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 5th budget reporting training in Ozamiz City April 26
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project held its fifth training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on April 26 at the Naomi’s Botanical Gardens in Ozamiz City. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 4th training on budget reporting in CDO April 2
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its fourth training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on April 2 in Cagayan de Oro City. READ MORE
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